Atrium Health Piloting New Seizure Guard

11.29.2023 Atrium Health News

Supplier development efforts lead system to a company founded by local med student

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 29, 2023 In what might be described as “Shark Tank for Health Care,” leaders from within Atrium Health’s supplier diversity and supply chain groups held a “Discovery Day” in July, considering new and innovative products that could improve the delivery of care throughout its system. Now, just over four months later, it has begun to pilot a medical device discovered there that holds promise in protecting people during seizures.

The small, single-use, oral device is a “protector against tongue injury” and called “PATI.” The patent-pending device was developed by Cary, North Carolina-based NeuroVice, which was founded in 2016 by Ashlyn Sanders, a UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University graduate and a current, third-year medical student at Wake Forest University School of Medicine doing rotations with Atrium Health in Charlotte. She plans to become a pediatric neuro-oncologist.

Epilepsy is the fourth-most common neurological disease, affecting some 50 million people worldwide. Contrary to common belief, current guidelines advise against inserting objects into the mouth of someone having a seizure to prevent further injury. The PATI, however, aims to provide a safe option that can prevent oral injuries during a seizure episode while still allowing fluids to naturally drain or be suctioned.

While still in pilot at Atrium Health, it is only being used in inpatient settings, but FDA approval received in February 2023 allows for self-administration or for it to be inserted by a nearby person with training. For home use, a prescription is required.

“This helps solve an unmet need for millions of people who suffer with seizures,” said Sanders. “From concept to implementation, we have been working to improve the patient experience and improve safety for them.

“During a seizure, the patient is at high risk of severe oral injury, including tongue biting, as well as choking on blood or saliva, aspiration and obstructed breathing,” she added. “These complications can lead to a medical emergency. Unlike dangerous objects, like spoons and towels used by desperate patients, the PATI is specially designed to withstand a seizure event and protect the patient. Its structure also allows medications to be administered while wearing the device.”  

For Sanders, the plight to help others dealing with seizures is personal. In 2014, she was diagnosed with a rare

and life-threatening neurologic condition, called a Chiari malformation, which led to emergency brain surgery and seizures. According to the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Chiari malformations are structural defects where the lower part of your brain presses on and through an opening in the base of the skull and cerebellum into the spinal canal.” Sanders started NeuroVice based on her desire to improve the patient experience for millions of others living with seizures.

“The PATI holds promise to help lessen the effects of seizure for many who suffer from them,” said Dr. Rajdeep Singh, medical director of epilepsy and neurodiagnostics at Atrium Health Neurosciences Institute and a clinical associate professor of neurology with Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Nothing like this has previously existed and we, at Atrium Health, are among the first to be able to use it in caring for our patients.”

Singh said patients who progress to generalized tonic-clonic seizures (formerly known as grand mal seizures) would be the population that would benefit the most from the device. This type of seizure affects the entire body, involving a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

“A portion of seizure patients will exhibit some type of warning that will tip themselves or the people around them that a seizure is about to occur,” added Singh. “This allows a narrow window of time to place the device into the patient’s mouth and help protect them from the pain and injuries associated with biting their tongue during an episode.”

“Ashlyn’s story is so compelling – how she turned adversity into opportunity,” said Manwell Bynum, head of business acceleration for Atrium Health and leader of the Atrium Health Center for Business Diversity and Entrepreneurship. “It’s one of many examples of how Atrium Health pursues inclusive innovation and does so in a way that is available and equitable for all. By opening our doors and opening our minds, we are helping Ashlyn create a successful entrepreneurial pathway to complement her chosen career in medicine. In the process, we’re improving her life, the lives of our patients and enhancing the clinical excellence that keeps Atrium Health on the leading edge of medicine.

“By diversifying our supply chain, we are leveling the playing field to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to bring their ideas forward and improve health, elevate hope and advance healing for all,” he added.

The first-of-its-kind Atrium Health Center for Business Diversity and Entrepreneurship is designed to incubate, optimize and accelerate opportunities for non-traditional minority, women and veteran-owned suppliers in the life sciences, energy and technology categories. It offers centralized resources for strategic sourcing and business acceleration, a learning center for supplier and business plan development, as well as a resource hub for other employers looking to advance their strategies and approach to supplier and business diversity.

*Photos courtesy of NeuroVice